Monday, December 29, 2014


RAH-RAH, RIZAL! A floral motorcade winds down on the streets of Angeles town during the 1931 celebration of Rizal Day, a national holiday.

Rizal Day, commemorating the date of death of our national hero, was a significant national holiday, held every December 30. First marked in 1898 through a decree issued by Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo in Malolos, Rizal Day started as a day of mourning in memory of the national hero.

 The first Rizal Day was celebrated in Manila with a program by Club Filipino, an organization of young Filipinos, many of whom were identified with revolutionary movement. The club held a velada in their headquarters on Calle Alix, now Legarda Street. Musical interludes and readings of Rizal’s poems were also incorporated in the program. The climax of the event was the placing of a crown of laurel on the head of a Rizal bust, performed by Trinidad Ungson.

 Rizal Day was declared an official national holiday in 1902, under the Americans. Filipinos, with their love for pomp and pageantry, transformed the affair with a fiesta atmosphere, incorporating parades that featured stately carrozas bearing likenesses of Rizal—mostly busts, replicas of his statues and portraits. Floral floats often carried allegorical muses and other historical characters, with painted slogans and memorable quotes culled from Rizal’s life works. An important part of the celebration was the selection of Rizal Day muses, of which every town seemed to have one. 

Pampanga had always had a deep association with the national hero. His visits to his friends in San Fernando and Bacolor in 1892 are well-documented. One of Rizal’s closest friends was Valentin Ventura, the uncle of Kapampangan philanthropist Honorio Ventura. It was Valentin who made the publication of El Filibusterismo possible, by shouldering its printing cost.

Angeles was one of the first towns of Pampanga to celebrate Rizal Day. In 1931, the town held a program featuring civic parades with floral motorcades, bearing children in costumes representing different professionals like nurses and doctors. Prizes were given away to the best-dressed participants. Local businesses chipped in to sponsor the event.

 The celebration of Rizal Day continued to be observed through the 30s-50s in Philippine towns, becoming simpler and more austere through the years. Today, Rizal Day has become a more formal state ceremony, marked with flag-raising, 21-gun salute and wreath-laying by the country’s chief executive. But for the small Rizalista community still flourishing in the foothills of Mount Arayat, every day is Rizal Day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


BELENISSIMO! The characters of Bethlehem come to life in this school production which were staple presentations in many Pampanga schools come Christmas time. Dated 1953.

 Christmas in old Guagua, like in all Catholic towns of Pampanga, is centered on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in a decrepit stable in Bethlehem. The scene is etched in our minds this way: Jesus lying on a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, His parents, Mary and Joseph standing watch. Around them, the Savior’s first well-wishers: shepherds and their flock, townsfolk, and the three Magis from the East. Above, an Angel hovers mid-air, proclaiming to one and all, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo!”(Glory to God in the Highest). This enduring image of the Nativity has remained with us since time immemorial, perpetuated in art and religious iconography.

Every Christmas, as late as the 1950s, the scene is replicated in many homes in Guagua, where a “belen”—a depiction of the Nativity using miniature figurines—is set up on a table, instead of the usual Christmas tree. More wealthy homes displayed marble, porcelain, wax or celluloid figurines figurines of the Baby Jesus, and all His attendant companions, housed in a constructed wooden stable, complete with real hay and grass. Modest homes were contented with cardboard replicas of these characters.

 Children would often gather around the “Belen” to gaze with wondering eyes on the scene before them. The owner of the house or a family elder would then recount the beautiful story of the Savior’s birth. Today, of course, Christmas stories would include the tales of Santa Claus, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman! On Christmas Eve, the silent story told by the “Belen” is becomes a moving, living pageant.

An hour before midnight, a re-enactment of the Nativity story begins with the procession of the images of Birhen Maria and San Jose around the town. The procession stops at certain houses in the neighborhood, and a man, representing San Jose, starts to beg the house owner for refuge for his infanticipating wife. His pleadings are expressed in the form of a song. The house owner, enacting the role of a Galilean innkeeper, dismisses them. His refusal for accommodation is also rendered as a song.

 In the next few hours, the two images, followed by their entourage, continue to move from one house to another, where the actor’s implorings are met with the same cold treatment. They finally arrive at the Church, where a stable is found waiting for them. Here, the images are installed—the Virgin and his spouse finally find rest and a roof over their heads. Their arrival signals the beginning of a beautiful Misa Pastoral, or midnight mass, presided by the cura.

 The message of the Belen story, retold every year in Christmas pageants such as this Layunan tradition has never changed—it is one of birth and renewal, of redemption and resolution, of re-dedication to the cause of peace and goodwill. Heartfelt greetings of the Season, and sincere wishes that good health and fortune betide you and your families, throughout the coming years!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


GIVE TOYS ON CHRISTMAS DAY. A child beams with joy amidst his collection of foreign and Philippine-made toys perfect for the holidays.

“What can I give you this Christmas?.. 
With prices up so very high--
A smile of joy and gladness,
To chase off any sadness
A gift we cannot sell or buy--
That's what I can give you this Chirstmas!"

 In this season of giving, that question, perhaps, is the one that demands a a most well-thought of answer. After all, the chunk of the well-earned Christmas bonus will most likely be appropriated to buying happiness for dear ones. For the wife, an imported vanity case containing all those important feminine paraphernalia—perfume, powder, lipstick—will be greatly appreciated. But then again, she might opt for a new living room set! For parents, a large, state-of-the-art flat TV is perfect, although medicine supplements make another ideal alternative . For a grown-up son or daughter, maybe a ticket to a Bruno Mars concert or some fashionable gifts: rubber shoes, handbags, a new watch.

 There is no guesswork, however, when it comes to choosing presents for children. Then, as now, the choice of a gift narrows down to just one---toys! A Kapampangan child and his toys are as inseparable as pen and paper, and, growing up in the 20s through the 50s, a wide assortment of toys were available to him, at prices parents could very well afford.

 Surveying Japanese bazaars and department stores in 1929, one would most likely find cheap, but attractive Philippine-made toys that were crafted “to make children understand our own Philippines better”, as one local businessman argued. The most popular were papier maché doll figures for both boys and girls. Many depict rural scenes, such as a charming dalagang bukid in a native costume astride a carabao, a squatting man roasting a lechon, and a country boy riding a horse, bearing baskets of fruits. For those with more money to spare, foreign-made toys could also be found in leading Manila stores—from motorized tin cars, airplanes and trucks, dolls made in the likeness of Hollywood stars to crying and talking doll figures that could also close and open their eyes.

 In old Guagua, however, boys and girls received Christmas toys not from fancy shops but handcrafted for the occasion by loving fathers, uncles and brothers. This folk art was still thriving in the early 1950s. A 1953 magazine account describes the toys thus: “These are the animal pull toys that were fashioned from bamboo and wire. The skeleton frame was then covered with thin, white “papel de japon”. They were mounted on 4-wheeled wooden platforms, and were so constructed that at every turn of the wheels, parts of their bodies moved and simulated an action peculiar to the animal they represented”.

 The animals chosen were often culled from the figures present at the birth of Jesus—lambs, cows, doves—as well as domesticated ones like dogs, cats, carabaos. Ingeniously made, the chickens flapped their wings, the cats played with their balls of thread, and dogs crouched and leaped as they were pulled on the town streets.

 At night, these toys were lighted inside with candles, giving them a warm glow as they were pulled by troops of children, joined by their Mass-going parents, towards the church. “It seemed”, waxed one Guagua resident recalling the scene, “as if all mankind and all the creatures of the earth were going again to the manger to worship at the feet of the Prince of Peace”.

 Time and again, it is said that “Christmas is for children”. For it is them that are dearest in the thoughts of parents, who, although kindhearted every time of the year, are doubly generous during this season. Once again, in many homes, toys—whether it be an expensive robot with a laser sword or a homemade rag doll---will shine in good proportion to the simple pleasures of little children.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


IF I HAD A HAMMER. Lubao Elementary School Shop Class for boys. 1936-1937.

 My least liked subject during my elementary days was Industrial Arts. Taught to fifth and sixth graders, industrial arts was meant to equip students with manual and vocational skills that one may find useful in a future career in woodworking, cottage industries and native crafts.

 American teachers paid attention to this non-academic subject as Pampanga’s economic activities seemed to revolve around those industries. Crafts such as buntal hat and basket weaving, pottery, blacksmithing, furniture making were known in such towns as Betis and Apalit. Which is why, when the Bacolor School of Arts and Trade made its curriculum, it included advanced courses in carpentry, furniture-making and iron works. It was just a matter of time that the subject was adopted in public elementary schools, under the name ”Industrial Arts”.

 I was a total klutz when it came to handling tools, and I couldn’t even tell a screwdriver from a can opener. So it was with much anxiety that I entered the Industrial Arts building located at the rear of the school—students simply called it “shop”. It was lined with long work tables and had cabinets full of carpentry tools, each little gadget in its own space. The teachers manning the ‘shop’ had a reputation for being ‘terrors’ so this did not help me in appreciating this subject.

But luck was on my side when I found out that our class was assigned to the more mild-mannered Mr. Dimabuyu. My parents knew him personally and they requested him to go easy on me. I had such a weak constituent that even a simple chore like pounding a hammer could trigger an asthma attack. So, for the next weeks, I was spared of carpentry work and was given drafting duties instead. I learned to draw schematic diagrams of every conceivable geometric figure known to man, using a T-square, a triangle and a ruler. I wonder if I could actually make a living out of this. After awhile, boredom set in and I started watching and helping my adept classmates with their handiworks that were becoming more interesting every day.

 The first project was a dustpan fashioned from old cooking oil cans and a piece of wood. The next was a shoe mud scraper made from soda crowns hammered onto a plank of wood. Simple enough. But the succeeding projects became even more elaborate, requiring more sophisticated tools and skills.

For the fruit tray, one had to be good not just in handling the jig saw but also in weaving rattan strips that constituted the side of the tray. The serving tray was the piece de resistance—individual bamboo tiles had to be cut and glued into place much like parquet—and then made even with a shaving plane. The surface was then hand varnished to gleaming perfection. Each finished piece had to be presented to Mr. Dimabuyu for grading.

With his critical eye, he took note of the accuracy of dovetailed pieces, the craftsmanship and the over-all aesthetics. Every flaw was met with a frown while the outstanding ones merited words of praise. In Grade 6, I felt courageous enough to take part finally in our shop class even if I was now under a terror teacher.

The first project stumped me though, a wooden animal pull toy with wheels. I simply could not handle a jigsaw, so I cheated by asking Sidring, our househelp, to do all the sawing, drilling and assembling.

Every day I would bring the pull toy, a work in progress, to the shop, sandpapering it to death so it would look like I was busy with it. I did the painting though, a no-brainer, but still I got a deduction for painting the toy dog green.

 Later, in the school year, a radical set-up was introduced for intermediate students—both boys and girls-- which took us by surprise. The role-reversal experiment called for the girls to take Industrial Arts and Gardening, and the boys to study Home Economics. We had to learn the parts of the sewing machine, do kitchen work and hawk merienda food from class-to-class. That was the worse part as the sight of boys in aprons selling kakanins always caused people to snicker. The girls, on the other hand,  were actually doing well with their bamboo-and-paper parol project.

 It was only when I began living alone that I learned to appreciate this subject now absent in most school curriculum. Industrial arts did not make a handyman out of me, but it sure did prepare me in coping with the challenges of home improvement and repair, which I think I am now capable of doing. With my basic knowledge of carpentry, I could frame pictures, install shelves, mend broken furniture—thanks to the subject I loved to hate—industrial arts!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


BURY ME BENEATH THE DAISIES. Tombs in a Philippine cemetery are decorated with traditional circular wreaths called "coronas", following the traditions of All saints Day. ca. early 1900s.

 One of our more enduring traditions is the honoring of the dead every first of November with prayers, candles and flowers placed on their tombs. Flowers served to honor not just the memory of the deceased, but in the distant past, they were also used to mark and identify places of burial.

 In the West, flowers were imbued with meanings, and were used as forms of non-verbal communication, often to express sentiments of love and affection. Thus, three red roses meant “I love you”, while a bunch of forget-me-nots meant--well, forget me not!

 Conversely, there were flowers that signified remembrance and mourning, of sadness and grief. These often became staples in fashioning bouquets, wreaths and funeral coronas, embellished with black ribbons, with the words “Recuerdo”, also created from tiny blooms.

 Everlasting (Helyschrysum bracteatum) were top favorites as they lasted long and kept their brilliant colors for days. Known also as “altar flowers”, we got our supply from Baguio, through relatives living there. The same relatives also sent bunches of calla lilies few days before the undas, which we kept in the coolest part of the house--the bathroom--to prevent browning. As one knows, lillies stand for holiness, faith and purity—appropriate floral offerings for All Saints’ Day.

 The fragrant ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata) meant “paglingap a tapat” (loyal care), while azucenang dilo or romantically called ‘caballero de europa’, stood for greatness. On the other hand, palomaria, locally known as bitaog (Callophylum inophyllum) symbolized care.

 The pink and purple pensamiento (pansy, of the viola family) sent a message of “atiu ka lagi keng isip” (you are always on our minds). Butones (locally known as botong, Barringtonia asiatica (linn.) kurz) , especially the purplish ones siginified “kapayapan”—peace and tranquility. Inclusion of white chrysanthemums or manzanillang puti in the flower arrangement meant a casual greeting of “komusta na ka”(how are you?).

 Perfumed jasmines presented at the tomb meant separation, but its variant—milleguas—or Tonkin jasmine, leaves a promise of “e mawale ing kekang ala-ala” (your memory will not fade away.) The passion flower—pasionaria—represented holiness, while the white adelfa meant, “magpasyal ku”—I will visit.

Orchids expressed profuse love, while sampaguita, profound sentiment. Used in context, the laurel signified a triumph over death. Of course, today, not much thought is given to the concept of floral philogy, or the language of flowers, which was all the rage from the 1920s-40s.

All that is lost in the bewildering variety of foreign-bred flowers now available to the florist (Malaysian mums, Holland tulips, stargazers) and in recent innovations in flower arranging (the use of mixed fruits-vegetable- flowers, artificial blooms of paper and plastic, why, even castaway driftwood!)

 True, there are many ways to affirm our love for our dearly parted, who will always remain sacred to our memory. But none as special as expressing that feeling with the “flowery” language of flowers!

Sunday, November 2, 2014


A GEM OF A GIRL. Gemma Teresa Guerrero Cruz, daughter of Carmen Guerrero and the late Ismael Cruz, is crowned Miss International 1964 at Long Beach, California, the First Filipino world beauty titlist. Shown with pageant host and actor Hugh O'Brian. 

When my second book, “ARO, KATIMYAS DA! A Memory Album of Titled Kapampangan Beauties 1908-2012” was launched in July 2013, I had the enviable privilege as having Gemma Teresa Guerrro Cruz-Araneta as my Guest of Honor and Speaker. A friend, Ivan Henares, president of the Heritage Conservation Society of which she is the chairperson of the Board of Trustees, had made the arrangement possible.

 A heavy downpour has delayed her arrival, but when she strode in, resplendent in an antique black and gold baro’t saya that once belonged to her lola Filomena, she got us all starstruck. I, myself was mesmerized by her patrician beauty, tall and regal was she, that led actress Arlene Dahl, one of the judges in that 1964 pageant to observe: “she had an unmistakable air of class that set her apart from others. I think that regality, so evident in her breeding and bearing is what gave her the judges’ nod.” 

Of course, I was thrilled and giddy with excitement at her presence—never mind that she was not a Kapampangan beauty like the subjects in my book; she was, after all, our first world beauty titlist, Miss International of 1964, a crown she won in Long Beach, California back in August, 1964.

But it took Gemma Cruz to provide the Pampanga connection, in a “kiss and tell” story of sorts, that delighted the audience no end, warning the audience that she won’t mention names, “lest you think I am being rude or unladylike”, she quipped, further eliciting more laughter. Let me give way to her own recounting of this event in her life:

 “In Alex Castro’s book about Kapampangan beauties, there is a chapter about beauty queens who had something to do with Pampanga. As I was reading it, a thought crossed my mind: why am I not included here? I had connections with Pampanga! 

 After all, I had two ardent suitors from Pampanga, one from Lubao, and the other from Porac. The one from Lubao was the quiet type, but I didn’t mind doing all the talking because he was very tall ( a basketball player) and was a good dancer. The one from Porac was very conservative, so he was horrified when I won the Miss Philippines and immediately broke off with me. 

 Both are in heaven now, I hope, waiting for me and raring to ask whom I love the best, Porac or Lubao?” 

 With a that, the witty Gemma closed her talk, leaving us “bitin” with a cliffhanger of an ending, what with her intriguing blind item revelations. Maybe she left enough clues to help uncover the identities of her two ardent Kapampangan swains.

Dare you, dear reader, venture a guess?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

*371. He Built According To God’s Plan: Arch. JOSE MA. ZARAGOZA

JOSE MA. ZARAGOZA. Renown for building ecclesiastical structures like the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, Zaragoza was hailed as National Artist for Architecture, Design & Allied Arts on 20 June 2014. His mother hails from the Velez-Infante family of Guagua, Pampanga. Photo ca. 1955.

A part-Kapampangan architect known for dedicating his life to building sacred monuments and churches was recenty honored posthumously with a National Artist award in the field of architecture, design and the allied arts.

 Jose Ma. Zaragoza was born in Manila on 6 December 1914 to parents, Dña. Rosario Velez y Infante and Elias Zaragoza y Roxas. the 1st Filipino graduate of Yale University in 1906.

 The Velez family, of Spanish lineage, were among the most prominent families of Guagua, noted for their vast landholdings and untold wealth, traces of which still remain to this day. No less illustrious were the Zaragozas; Elias himself was the 1st Filipino graduate of Yale University, earning a degree in Electrical Engineering, summa cum laude, in 1906. Later, the senior Zaragoza was granted a 10-year study at Faraday Institute in London.

 Apparently, it was from his father that Joselin, as the young Jose was fondly called, got his aptitude for numbers and design. After graduating from high school at San Beda College in 1931 as salutatorian, he enrolled at the University of Sto. Tomas, where he finished with honors, B.S. in Architecture. He passed the government examinations in 1938.

 After passing the licensure exams in 1938, he joined the firm of Arch. Andres Luna de San Pedro, the Dean of Philippine Architects—and Juan Luna’s son. His Catholic upbringing shaped the direction of his lifeworks—one of his early works was the Villa San Miguel in Mandaluyong. But he rose to great prominence when he won the design project of the Sto. Domingo Church and Convent at Quezon City. It was a significant assignment as an ancestor, Felix Roxas, had designed the original Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros , subsequently bombed during the war in 1941.

 Zaragoza’s other credits include the Pope Pius XII parish church in Manila, the Don Bosco Bosco church in Makati (finished 4 March 1978), the Union Church of Manila (also in Makati), the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Parañaque, and the refurbishing of the interiors of Quiapo Church. In all, Arch. Zaragoza was involved in the design and construction of over 45 ecclesiastical structures all over the country. But he also distinguished himself in designing corporate offices and edifices.

One important commission was from the Lopez Group founder Eugenio Lopez Sr., who asked him to design Meralco’s new Ortigas headquarters, previously based in San Marcelino, Manila. The new, state-of-the-art multi-storey building was completed and inaugurated on 14 March 1969 in time for the electric company’s 66th anniversary. Other iconic landmarks that Zaragoza handled were the Greenhills Shopping Center in Ortigas and Casino Español. 

 Along his professional line, Zaragoza was an honorary fellow of both the American Institute of Architects and the Philippine Institute of Architects. He also was a 2-term president of the Philippine Institute of Architects and also held the presidency of the U.S.T. College of Architecture and Fine Arts Alumni Association. He headed his own private enterprise as president of the J.M.Z. Home Industries.

 The devout Zaragoza was named a Papal Chamberlain of Pope Pius XII (Cape and Sword) in 1956. He was also a Cavalier Magistrale of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and a Knight Treasurer, Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He sat as a director for the Catholic Aid Association and was an active Knight of Columbus member.

 Zaragoza was the first Filipino to attend the International Institute of Liturgical Arts in Rome in 1956. That same year, he also attended the conference at the Union Nationales des Cooperatives d’Énglises et Edifices Religion Sinistres, held in Paris, France.

 Married to the former Pilar Rosello, his family was blessed with 5 children: Ramon (writer), Loudette, Charina (Bb. Pilipinas-Universe 1968) and Vince. The family settled eventually in Makati where the esteemed architect lived out the rest of his life, attending to his pet dogs, as well as to his many religious activities. The acclaimed architect died at age 81 on 26 November 1994, and his memorial services were held at the same chapel that he designed, the Blessed Sacrament chapel of Don Bosco.

 Amidst the Nora Aunor brouhaha, Zaragoza was named as a National Artist on 20 June 2014. But unlike the thespian’s controversial background, Zaragoza’s lifetime achievements in the field of design architecture are, without question, spotless testaments of his brilliance as an “architect for God, for man”.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

*370. TEATRO SABINA: Where Zarzuelistas Take Centerstage

LIFE STAGES. The venerable Teatro Sabina of Bacolor, is the venue for the play, "Reina Malaya", produced and performed by students of Pampanga Trade School. Note the figure of Uncle Sam on the left, which would suggest that this play had a patriotic theme like many plays of the period. Ca. 1927.

In early 20th c. Pampanga, Bacolor’s first and premiere theatre – Teatro Sabina – was where Kapampangan actors and singers, playwrights and composers,  congregated to give vent to their new, artistic pursuits before an adoring town audience.

One such novel art form was the ‘zarzuela’, a play that was both sung and acted by performers,with dialogues and song lyrics in Kapampangan. The Kapampangan ‘zarzuela’ was a product of a brainstorm by the 3 leading poets and dramatists of their time: Proceso Pabalan (Byron) , Juan Crisostomo Soto (Crissot) and Felix Galura (Flauxgialer), who thought of combining declamations and songs in one stage play, sometime in 1900.

Previous to this, staged drama consisted of moro-moros and kumidyas, which only had straight and long dialogues that caused many an audience to sleep in the middle of a play. The group enrolled the services of composer Amado Gutierrez David to create song melodies, and soon, the first zarzuelas emerged from their prolific pens. Pabalan wrote his zarzuelas (Ing Managpe and Magparigaldigal) and Soto his ‘Paninap ng San Roque’.

The rehearsals for the ‘zarzuelas’ were held in the spacious residence of  Mateo Gutierrez-David, father of composer Amado and another zarzuelista—Jose Gutierrez-David, the future justice of the Supreme Court. The Gutierrez-David house is thus considered as the birthplace of Pampanga zarzuelas.

But a permanent venue was needed to accommodate the large repertory of actors, musicians and backstage hands – not to mention the audience. Luckily, Indang Sabina Joven, the unmarried sister of Pampanga’s governor, Don Ceferino Joven, had an idle plot of land in downtown Bacolor. With the help of her family, a theater was constructed that was to bear her name—Teatro Sabina. To further honor her, the performing troop called itself Compania Sabina, which toured all over Pampanga, Tarlac and even Manila.

Many zarzuelas—now considered classic—had their gala performances at Teatro Sabina, which was praised for its excellent acoustics, courtesy of water wells dug in strategic parts of the theater grounds. Pabalan had the privilege of having his zarzuela, “Ing Managpe” (The Patcher) staged first at the renowned theater on 13 September 1900, followed by Crissot’s ‘’Ing Paninap ng San Roque” (1901) and “Alang Dios” (1902).

Hundreds of zarzuelas were written and produced afterward, with many becoming word-of-mouth hits like “Ing Sultana”, “Mascota”, “Sigalut”, and “La Independencia”. Teatro Sabina became a popular venue for staging plays produced not only by professional theatre groups but also by drama guilds of nearby schools.

In 1909, the Teatro Sabina was reconstructed and remodelled. When inaugurated anew, a commemorative board was placed above the frontage of the stage, on the proscenium arch. It contained the names of Pampango dramatists and composers who played major roles in promoting the Kapampangan zarzuela: Proceso Pabalan, Juan Crisostomo Soto, Felix Galura, Pascual Gozun, Pablo Palma, Jose Prado, Amado Gutierrez-David and Jose Gutierrez-David.

The zarzuela era flourished for about 3 decades, thanks to Teatro Sabina.  The support from the Joven family continued until financial difficulties set in. The legendary theater ceased operations in the late ‘20s, ending the golden era of Kapampangan theater.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


FILIPINAS AT THE FAIR! The Philippine Exhibit was assigned the largest space in the fairgrounds of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and a multitude of structures were built to serve as exhibit halls and residences of some 1,100 Filipinos (mostly tribal groups)  flown in to animate the event. No wonder, the Philippine Exhibit caused a major sensation

 “Meet me at St. Louis…meet me at the Fair!” 
So goes the lyrics of the period song that served as the unofficial theme of a magnificent American fair that was dubbed as “the greatest of expositions”, surpassing everything the world has seen before, in terms of cost, size and splendor, variety of views, attendance and duration.

 The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, popularly known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, opened officially on 30 April 1904, to mark the 100th anniversary of the purchase of Louisiana from France by the U.S.- a vast area that comprised almost 1/3 of continental America. From this land were carved the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma and sections of Colorado, Minnesota and Wyoming.

 Save for Delaware and Florida, all the states and territories of America participated in all the activities at the sprawling 1,275 acre fairgrounds that took all of 6 years to build. As a U.S. territory, the Philippines joined 45 nations in organizing a delegation as well as the construction of its own exhibit grounds—the largest in the fair-- to house pavilions, recreated villages, presentations and native Filipino groups.

 Much have been said about the Philippine representation that included “living museums” with ethnic tribes (Samal, Negrito, Igorottes, Bagobos), and regional groups (Visayans, Tagalogs) showing their traditional way of living in replicated villages.

Before large audiences, Igorots demonstrated their culinary practices by eating dogs, while Negritos shot arrows and climbed trees. A pair of Filipino midgets were also featured stars, together with English-speaking, harp-playing Tagalas who represented the more “civilized’ side of the Philippines.

 On a more positive note, the Philippine Constabulary Band dazzled and thrilled crowds with their impressive and stirring performance of march music while the Philippine Scouts, composed mostly of smartly-dressed Macabebe soldiers ("Little Macs", as they were called by their American fans) , performed military drills with precision and aplomb.

 Then there were the superlative government exhibits that showcased the richness of Philippine talents and resources. There were exhibits in various categories: Forestry, Arts, Crafts, Cuisine, Education, Agriculture and Horticulture, Fish, Game and Water Transport and other industries. Tasked with the purchase of collecting and installing these distinctively Filipino exhibits for the St. Louis World’s Fair was the Philippine Exposition Board, specially created by the Philippine Commission.

The Board was allotted an initial budget of $125,000, with a further appropriation of up to $250,000 to mount a world-class exhibit that would show the commercial, industrial, agricultural, cultural, educational and economic gains made by our islands under Mother America.

 Recognitions were given by the organizers of the World’s Fair for country participants where their entries were judged by an international jury. Over 6,000 of various colors were won by the Philippines. Among those granted the honors were many outstanding Kapampangans who were represented by their inventive and creative works that wowed both the crowds of St. Louis and also the esteemed jury. 

In the category of Ethnography, the Silver Prize went to the Negrito Tribe (tied with the Bagobos) that counted Aetas from Pampanga as among the tribe members. They wre represented by Capt. Medio of Sinababawan and Capt. Batu Tallos, of Litang Pampanga.

 The Products of Fisheries yielded the following Kapampangan winners who produced innovative fishing equipment. Bronze Medals: Ambrosio Evangelista, Diego Reyes (Candaba); Fulgencio Matias (Sta. Ana); Macario Tañedo (Tarlac). Honorable Mentions: Alfredo Arnold, Epifanio Arceo, Pedro Lugue, Jacinto De Leon, Pascual Lugue, Mario Torres (Apalit); Eugenio Canlas, Teodoro de los Santos (Sto. Tomas); Andres Lagman (Minalin); Rita Pangan (Porac); Thos. J. Mair, Medeo Captacio (identified only as coming from Pampanga).

 Pampanga schools also performed commendably, with various winners in the Public School Exhibits, Elementary Division. Bronze medal winners include the town schools of Apalit, Arayat, Bacolor, Candaba and San Fernando, while Honorable Mentions were merited by Betis, Guagua and Mabalacat.

In the Secondary School division, Pampanga High School of San Fernando too home the Bronze. From among entries in the General Collective Exhibit category, Mexico was chosen to receive a Silver Medal. The Bronze went to Macabebe and San Fernando, while Honorable Mentions list included Bacolor, Candaba, Floridablanca, Magalang and Sta. Rita.

 The Fine Arts competition produced two Pampanga residents: Rafael Gil who won Silver for his mother-of-pearl art creation. Gil, and the highly regarded Bacolor artist, Simeon Flores (posthumous), also won Honorable Mentions for their paintings.

 The culinary traditions of Pampanga were made known to the world at the St. Louis World’s Fair through the sweet kitchen concoctions of several ‘kabalens’. Angeles was ably represented by Trifana Angeles Angeles (preserved orange peel) ; Irene Canlas (preserved melon); Carlota C. Henson (preserves and jellies); Januario Lacson (santol preserves); Isabel Mercado (preserved limoncito); Atanacio Rivera de Morales (santol preserves, buri palm preserves); Zoilo and Marcelino Nepomuceno (mango jelly); Aurelia Torres (santol preserves) andYap Siong (anisada corriente, anis espaseosa) Mabalaqueñas also tickled taste buds with their homemade desserts: Rafaela Ramos Angeles (preserved fruit, santol preserves); Maria Guadalupe Castro (santol jelly) and Justa de Castro (kamias fruit preserve).

 The World’s Fair at St. Louis closed at midnight on 1 December 1904, and was declared a huge success—thanks in part to the blockbuster Philippine exhibits enriched by the modest contributions of Kapampangans who proved equal to the challenge, to emerge as world-class citizens.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

*368. JULIAN MANANSALA , The Father of Philippine Nationalist Films

MASANTOL'S MOVIE MAN. Julian Manansala, director, producer, film makee, was known as "The Father of Philippine Nationalist Films" for his many movies with patriotic themes.

 The esteemed director-peliculero from Masantol who would leave a name in Philippine movie history as a foremost producer of patriotic and historical films, was born Julian Manansala on 28 January 1899, to Miguel Manansala and Leoniza Mendoza. Julian, ho also was an accomplished layer, comes from an artistic family that counts Vicente Silva Manansala as a member; the future national artist is his nephew.

 In his teens, he was quite a popular figure in his hometown, heading social clubs like “Bulaclac ning Pamacalugud  in 1913 and as an adult, “Batis ning Tula” and ‘’Panyulat Capampangan’’, a literary group. He moved to Manila for his high school education, which he finished at the National University in 1915. Manansala next pursued his Bachelor of Laws, at Escuela de Derecho, which he completed in 1919.

 After taking the bar, he opted to work in Washington D.C. as a Solicitor for Pensioners for over 200 Filipino veteran soldiers who fought for America, helping them secure their benefits and rights as provided by the Law of Pensions and Compensations. He held this post at the Bureau of Pension from 1921-28.

Upon his return to the Philippines, Manansala surprised everyone when he jumped into the fledgling Philippine movie industry bandwagon, joining pioneers Juan Nepomuceno, Atty. Vicente Salumbides, Sen. Jose Vera and Dña. Narcisa vda. De Leon. After all, he had always believed in taking risks and capitalizing on opportunities: ‘’Samantalanan me at gamitan ing guintu mung panahun, qñg pamagaral ang metung a cabiasnan a talagan cajiligan mu, ebala ing nung emu man abalu ing aliwa,uling mayap at pakinabangnan mu nung lunto cang especialista qñg metung a cabiasnan, kesa qñg abalu mu ing sabla, dapot puguit naca man dili.’’ (Grab and use your time of gold to learn one field of interest. Do not worry if you cannot learn everything—it is better to be a master of one, than to be a Jack of all trades).

 Manansala directed his first movie, ‘’Patria Amore’’ in 1929, and proved to be a masterful film make. The movie created quite a stir with its direct reference to Spanish abuses. Considered as discriminatory, the Spanish community filed a case in court, asking to stop the screening of the movie for fear of a backlash against them. The request for a restraining order was denied. From thenceforth, Manansala continued to produce a list of movies with strong nationalistic themes.

 The next year, in 1930, he completed ‘’Dimasalang’’, starring Mary Walter and kabalen, Dr. Gregorio Fernandez, who would also foray into directing. He next signed up with Banahaw Pictures Corp. as its Technical Director and megged ‘’Ang Kilabot ng mga Tulisan’’ (1932), with Dolly Garcia and Salvador Zaragosa.

Unhappy being an employee, he resigned to put up his own Liberty Cinema Corp. Manansala directed and produced ‘’Pag-ibig ng Kadete’’, headlined by the Kapampangan poet, Amado Yuson. He next shot “Mutya ng Katipunan” (1939), with favorite actress, Arsenia Francisco, whom he would use again in one of his last films, “Tawag ng Bayan’’(1940).

 His political interest was piqued when he became the Secretary-General of Manila-based ‘’Nais Capampangan’’. Later, he would also join the consolidated Nationalist Party in Manila as a committee president, for 6 years.

 When his heyday as a filmmaker was over, Manansala returned to his first love--Law. A full 26 years after his graduation, he was finally admitted to the Philippine bar on 19 November 1945, and practiced his profession. He was married to married Donata Quito, 1921, with whom he had 4 children: Antonio, Bonifacio (who would also become a very successful criminal lawyer , at times, working side-by-side with his father), Carolina and Donata.

 Manansala lived by his life credo: ‘’Ing catapatan qng sinta qng calupang cayanacan, qñg meguing cabislac na ning caldua, at qñg Indung Balen, landas neng tune ning pamagtagumpe at caligayan.’’ (Your faith in your young love, in your soul mate, and in your Motherland are the real paths to achieving personal glory and fulfillment). Manansala has certainly treaded on the right path; today, lawyer-director is known as the First Father of Philippine Nationalist Films.

Monday, April 28, 2014

*367. Good Times, Great Eats: SPIC 'N SPAN

SPIC TO ME. A 1950s advertisement of Spic 'n Span, one of Pampanga's premiere and  popular restaurants founded by Pilar Mendez-Gomez, widow of Vicente Gomez of Angeles. 

 “Let’s have ice cream at Spic ‘n Span!” 

Whenever my dad was in the mood for treating us kids, he would holler those words, and we would all respond with squeals of delight at the prospect of having a good time over at Angeles’ most popular haven of refreshment.

 Long before McDonald’s and Jollibee, there was Spic ‘n Span, located along the national road in Balibago, Angeles City, near the Mabalacat town boundary. It was not exactly a fastfood restaurant, but it billed itself as a “cocktail lounge and restaurant”, catering to banquets, wedding receptions and parties at popular prices. But to us, Spic ‘n Span represented everything that was cool, clean and refreshing, a break from our humdrum routine and a special time for family to bond and recharge.

 In fact, it was the latter that became the guiding light of the Spic ‘n Span founder, Mrs. Pilar Gomez, in the successful management of her restaurant business, elevating it as one of Central Luzon’s best.

Pilar Mendez was born in Paco, Manila on 2 October 1899, the daughter of Manuel Mendez, a Tabacalera executive, and Benita Bautista of Victoria, Tarlac. Of Spanish stock, Pilar grew up speaking Spanish, and was educated at Sta. Isabel College and St. Scholastica College.

 Just a few years into college, she met Vicente “Centi” Gomez (b. 24 Nov. 1889), the son of Esteban Gomez and Josefa Pamintuan of Angeles. Esteban was the first-born of Nicolas Gomez (aka Fray Guillermo Masnou, cura of Angeles) with local lass Patricia Mercado.

Their short courtship culminated in their wedding on 19 Mar. 1920. Their children—11 of them-- would come in quick succession, and to help fend for the family, Pilar set up a small restaurant in 1945—“Linda’s Nook and Drive In”, which was to become the forerunner of “Spic ‘n Span”.

 In 1953, her husband, Centi, died leaving the widow alone to run the restaurant business. Her devotion to her family spurred her in steering Spic ‘n Span to greater heights, which eventually became one of Pampanga’s finest and well-known restaurants and caterers. For over two decades, Spic ‘n Span would serve hundreds of thousands of food-loving local and international guests (it was a favorite watering hole of Clark Air Base personnel), cater to countless wedding receptions, graduations and other milestone events. 

To hone her knowledge in the food industry, Pilar enrolled as a member of the Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association of the Philippines, and joined the delegation for observation tours to Japan and Hongkong.

 In all these years, Pilar managed to preserve the unity of her family despite time and distance. All but one (Pilar Ines, who died in infancy) would finish their education and move on to other fields of endeavour: Esteban (Commerce, La Salle), Pacita, Angel (Mechanical Engineering, Mapua), Hermelinda, Floriana (H.E., Sta. Paul) , Vicente Magno Jr. (Commerce, La Salle), Manuel Benito (Mechanical Eng., La Salle) , Pilar Vicenta (Secretarial Science), Benita Paula (Bachelor of Arts) and Salvador Senen (Bachelor of Arts, La Salle).

 Spic ‘n Span’s heyday would continue on till the 70s, and so did our regular after-school hours stop. On the long drive back to Mabalacat from Angeles, we would drop by for a scoop or two of my favorite chocolate ice cream—which was what my dear father could afford in those days.

By then, the area had become crowded, and alternative eating places, like A&W Drive-in (Open 24 hours! Angeles’ newest and most fascinating!), Shanghai Restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken and even Didi’s Pizza, had started burgeoning in far more spacious and developed locations. In a few years, Spic ‘n Span was no more.

 Mrs. Pilar Mendez would pass away on 21 October 1983, but her legacy lives on in the happy recollections of satisfied customers like me, who regularly had a dose of wholesome fun at her special place that brought hospitality, excellent taste and warm service together under one roof" Spic 'n Span!!

Sunday, April 13, 2014


 APOSTLE'S CREED. Ceremony of the Apostles' Washing of the Feet. ca. 1955. Pampanga.

Every year, during Holy Week, Pampanga’s devouts are not only treated to a spectacle of saintly characters during the traditional processions, but they are also introduced to a host of biblical personalities—the angels of the Resurrection, Roman centurions, and perhaps the most visible and busiest—the twelve apostles of Christ, personified by select male members of the community.

To be chosen as one of the disciples of Christ was an affirmation of one’s respectability and standing in local society. Once chose, an apostol has to fulfill a vow or panata of carrying out whatever responsibilities and duties are assigned to him during the entire Lenten season. First comes the assumption of the identity of a particular apostle’s name. No fast rules are observed in the naming of the chosen apostoles—although the title of San Pedro often goes to the most senior member and San Juan, to the youngest.

The members of Christ’s court are then given white sutanas to wear, with sashes of different colors that often have their written names on them for proper identification—not unlike pageant sashes that proclaim one’s beauty title: Miss Universe, Miss International, Mutya ning Kapampangan and so forth.

Nowadays, like in my city of Mabalacat, Pampanga parishes garb their apostoles with robes that adhere strictly to the liturgical colors assigned to every apostle saint: deep yellow and green for San Pedro, red and green for San Juan.

On Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) , the apostoles make their first major appearance: they accompany the parish priest in the re-enactment of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem as he enters the church to a throng of palaspas-bearing churchgoers.

Once inside, the apostoles enjoy preferred seating in the church, occupying the front pews or chairs in the altar area. It will also be the first time for the parishioners to scrutinize up close the chosen twelve, often with a touch of amusement, as it’s not every day that one sees a neighborhood grocer dressed up like San Andres or Santo Tomas. Hushed arguments would be heard in the church as to aptness of the role assigned to this person who is deem either“ too short.. too fat..or has no hair”, and so on and so forth.

 On Maundy Thursday, the apostoles are in full force again as they participate in the “Dakit Cordero”. Held in mid- afternoon, the apostles lead the way in fetching the holy lamb of God , shaped from flour, kamote or potato, from the house of a designated hermano. They accompany the cordero, conveyed on a tray by the hermano, to the church, where it is blessed.

The afternoon event culminates with the celebration of the Mass of the Last Supper, that features the procession of the Blessed Sacrament and its enshrinement at the monumento or Altar of Repose . Here, the apostoles are put on spotlight with the traditional washing of their feet by the priest, in imitation of Christ’s act of humble service.

The apostoles, smartly dressed in robes and sporting newly-shined shoes, fresh socks and professional pedicure take to the altar for this sacred re-enactment, attended by a gawking audience and a flurry of camera flashes. Must-join too, are the processions for both Miercoles Santo and Viernes Santo.

At the latter, the apostoles escort the most important figure of the prusisyun, the Santo Entierro or Apung Mamacalulu, the carved figure of the dead Christ encased in a gilded and flower-bedecked calandra. It simulates a real funeral procession, winding along the town’s main street and ending in the church. Easter Sunday will find the apostoles busy too, as they participate in the ritual of Salubong, in a show of solidarity with their Master and of course, the people.

For an apostol, there’s not an idle moment during the season of Lent. Though just a temporary role lasting no more than a week, it is a role that he embraces and takes seriously, a special privilege to serve God and humanity in a way that emulates and imitates Christ. Lucky indeed is he, for as Christ himself proclaimed, many are called, but few are chosen.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


(In January of 2009, my mother, Estrella del Rosario Castro or simply, "Imang Ecteng" to many people, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. After learning of her sickness, her first-born grandchild, Charisse Diane Hamada wrote this letter to her Lola Ester. Charisse had grown up under her watch in Mabalacat, while waiting to be reunited with her U.S-based parents. Before Ima expired in June, she had the pleasure of seeing her first great-grandchildren-Mia and Ethan-twins of Charisse, who flew them home in March 2009 to see their 'Lola Easter' for the first--and the last time. The picture accompanying this article shows my young Ima with daughter, Celine, mother of Charisse, in 1952)

January 29, 2009
10:14 PM

 My Dear Lola,

As I put Mia and Ethan to bed this evening, we said a prayer for you. We prayed that your illness will not cause you unbearable pain. We are saddened that you are going through this Lola, but we know that you are a very strong person and can face what's to come.

I often wondered how you managed your life with 8 children! Edgar and I have 2 and already we are saying "no more". Reflecting back on the years we lived with you, I want to tell you how forever grateful we are for your love and support (and Lolo's, too).

 I know you made a lot of sacrifices for my family. I remember that you had to build an extension to Sta. Ines to house our family of 6! I remember you helped us out financially, tirelessly tried to help us get visas to come to the States, raised Charmaine and I while Mom/Pa were in the States. That must have been so taxing on you. You never complained about the responsibility. I also remember giving you so much heartache growing up.

So Lola, I want to take this opportunity to say how sorry I am for ever hurting you. Who I am now is a reflection of how well you and Mom/Pa raised us and I am proud to be your oldest apo. As an adult - a mother like you - it's all very clear to me where my independence, resourcefulness, perseverance, drive and loyalty comes from - it's from you, Lola.

You have set a role model for your children and your apos. I will remember you always as being generous of yourself - so selfless and devoted to your family, always putting your family first before yourself.

You love and you give unconditionally, Lola and this is how I strive to live my own life and hope my children do the same.

Lola, I am honoring you by bringing Ethan and Mia to meet you and know you even for a short time. You are not a stranger to them as you might think. They give me and Edgar laughter and love and that is what I'm hoping they would bring to you during our short visit.

When God calls you, remember those you are leaving behind as we remember and cherish you. Know that WE will be alright. Know that it is okay to let go and be at peace. You will no longer have to feel pain or worry as you've done all your life.

We will all be OK, we have each other no matter the distance. Lola, we love you - we always have and we always will. Thank you for everything you've done for us, from the bottom of our hearts. Give our love to Lolo and Tito Eric and to all our family who have gone before us. May God Bless You and watch over you.

Your apo, Charisse

P.S. Lola, how could I forget to mention? Your cooking! You've shown us love through the food you've fed all us these years. We will never forget you... I just wished I learned (even a little) how to cook like you...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

*364. MSGR. DIOSDADO G. VICTORIO, Lubao's Man of Letters, Man of Light

REV. FR. DIOSDADO G. VICTORIO, as a young  J.C.L. Classical Studies graduate of the University of Sto. Tomas in 1939.

The town of Lubao counts not just presidents and acting families as its native children, but also accomplished men of the cloth like Rev. Frs. Francisco Cancio, Pedro Punu and Fidel Dabu.

One other Lubeño religious who stands out for his brilliant intellect was Rev. Fr. Diosdado Victorio y Galang.

The young Diosdado entered the San Carlos Seminary, which had a large population of Kapampangan seminarians in 1928. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in Philosophy, but stayed on to earned another major in Theology, completed in 1934. After which, he took up Canon Law from 1934-1938.

In 1938, he entered the University of Santo Tomas to earn a Licentiate in Canon Law (Juris Canonici Licentia)-Classical Studies. That same year, he was ordained as a deacon on 21 December 1938. He gained his licentiate in 1939.

As a student at the pontifical university, he was member of the Lambda-Sigma, and was a Librarian on the side. Rev. Fr. Victorio was assigned to Lubao after his studies, and quickly played an important part in the Catholic education of the youth. When the Lubao Central High School was founded on 28 October 1950, it was under his direction that the administration of the school flourished. The school, started in the large house of Felicidad Manuel, would eventually be known as the Holy Rosary Academy of Lubao.

In February 1952, when Bishop Cesar Guerrero conceived of organizing the Crusade of Penance, Charity and Goodwill revolving around the veneration of Virgen de Los Remedios (Patroness of Pampanga), he named Fr. Victorio as its Spiritual Director. He was then serving as the cura of the Sta. Lucia Church, in Sasmuan. The cruzada was launched and it successfully ward off the polarizing effects of Socialism which was on the rise in the province.

From 1969 to 1973, now a Monsignor, the very reverend father was assigned at the Archdiocese of San Fernando, succeeding his kabalen, Msgr. Pedro Puno. His next stop was in Angeles, where he served at the Most Holy Rosary Parish until 1980. The good father from Lubao finished his earthly mission when he passed away in 1982,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


CAPAMPANGAN CONCORDIANS. Kapampangan internas of La Concordia College, most from well-known families of the province, are shown in this 1928 photo at the school grounds.

 In the 20s and 30s, class pictures were taken and classified not just by grade levels or sections, but also by the provinces from where the students came from. This custom of regional classification arose at the same time as school clubs were being formed based on one’s provenance. In the early days of the U.P. , there were officially-recognized clubs such as the Pampanga High School Club, which counted as its exclusive members, only PHS alumni.

 I have seen many group pictures bearing captions as “Seminaristas de la Pampanga”, “Pampango-Speaking Students at Philippine Normal School”, and most recently, this snapshot of a bevy of young Kapampangan ladies, identified as “Pampangueñas at Concordia”. This picture, which dates from 1928, not only identified the La Concordia students by number, but also the towns from which they originated.

 Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion de la Concordia was a school founded by Dña. Margarita Roxas de Ayala in 1868, built on her estate located on Pedro Gil in Paco. She donated this land for the erection of a girl’s school which was run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The school, with its initial staff of “imported”teachers, attracted students like Rizal’s sisters—Olimpia, Saturnina and Soledad, and other children of prominent families, from nearby provinces, Pampanga included.

 This photo shows young Kapampangan “internas” (student boarders) whose surnames reveal their privileged background. Detached from the comforts of their homes and familiarity of families, these girls were sent to Manila, with their board and lodging paid for monthly by their parents, with the goal of giving them proper education, befitting young women of their generation.

 So, whatever happened to these La Concordia Girls of 1928. I tried my best to find out what happened after their school years in one of Manila’s elite girls’ schools, guided by the names written on the back of the photo.

Fil-Am Barbara Setzer (1) and her younger sister Estela (15) were both from Angeles. Their parents were George Seltzer, and American, and Maria Dolores Lumanlan, who were married sometime in 1912. All 6 children (including Mercedes, Frank, John and Clara) were born in Angeles. Barbara was their second eldest, born on 4 December 1912. She died in San Francisco, California. Benita Estela Seltzer or Estela (born 21 March 1918) was just 10 years old when this picture was taken; she too, moved to the U.S. when she came of age.

 Catalina Madrid (2) is listed as having Macabebe as her hometown while Girl #3 is unidentified. Another Macabebe lass is Gregoria Alfonso (10); Alfonso descendants continue to reside in the town to this day.

 Araceli Berenguer (4) comes from the prominent Berenguer family of Arayat; she has three other kabalens in this photo, Maria Tinio (16), Flora Kabigting (6) with a familiar surname now associated with the halo-halo that made the town famous, and Rosario Dizon (13), who grew up to be a national Philippine Free Press Beauty of 1929.

 Little is known of Salud Canivel (5) who is from Candaba as well as Girl No. 14, identified only as Natividad R. Margarita Coronel (7) comes from the well-known Coronel family of Betis, Guagua. After La Concordia, she went to the University of Santo Tomas, where she excelled in Botany. A rare angiosperm she collected in Betis in 1934 is included today at the UST Herbarium. 

Loreto Feliciano (8) and her younger sister, Luz (17) are natives of Bamban, Tarlac. Loreto is better known as the wife of the late Robert ”Uncle Bob” Stewart, the pioneer TV broadcaster who founded DZBB Channel 7, and host of the long-running TV show, “Uncle Bob Lucky 7 Club ”. 

The Nepomucenos of Angeles are represented by cousins Pilar (9) and Imelda (12). Feliza Adoracion Imelda Nepomuceno (b. 29 Nov. 1912) was the daughter of Jose Fermin Nepomuceno with Paula Villanueva. She married Dr. Jose Guzman Galura later in life. 

Her first cousin Pilar, (Maria Agustina Pilar Nepomuceno, b. 13 October 1911) was the daughter of Geronimo Mariano (Jose Fermin’s older brother) and Gertrudes Ayson. As Miss Angeles 1933, Pilar represented the town in the search for Miss Pampanga at the 1933 Pampanga Carnival and Exposition. She later married Dr. Conrado T. Manankil and a daughter, Marietta, also became Miss Angeles 1955.

 What we know of their later lives as adult women suggests that they did fairly well, making good accounts of themselves as mostly successful mothers and homemakers. But in 1928, they were just a bunch of young Kapampangan La Concordia interns, bound together by a common tongue and culture—sweet and giggly as all other typical girls of their age---with the prospects of the future still far, far away.

Monday, February 10, 2014

*362. MUSICUS: The Sound of Our Fiestas!

MAJOR, MAJOR, MAJORETTES. Lovely Kapampangan majorettes pose for a shot before joining the local 'musicus' in their rounds around the town, lending a festive air to Pampanga fiestas. ca. 1950s.

It’s our Mabalacat city fiesta as I write this article---and it’s a pity that I am not there to enjoy the festivities, not to mention the colorful sights, smells and sounds that accompany the yearly February 2 proceedings. You just know it’s fiesta season when blue and white buntings start lining the streets and tiangge stalls begin popping up along the church perimeter, offering all sorts of goods, from the useful to the bizarre.

 But nothing says “fiesta” more than the presence of music-making bands—“musicus”—staples of every fiesta, in every town and barrio of the Philippines. With their gleaming brass horns, cymbals, lyres, trumpets, drums and bugles, uniformed band members--preceded by a bevy of pretty, baton-twirling majorettes—are always a striking sight when they take to the streets, making stirring melodies as they march, with a bit of choreography on the side.

 Evolved from the roving “musikung bumbung” (bamboo bands), today’s bands drew early inspirations from the acclaim gained by the Philippine Scouts Band at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The band was the largest at the fair, and it had a large repertoire of 80 pieces, against Fredric Sousa’s 65. “They were good and had temperament which the other bands lacked”, wrote one visitor.

 Needless to say, they took the world’s fair by storm, often performing in drills with “Little Macs”—young Macabebe veterans who enlisted for service to fight for the Americans in the Philippine-American War. Certainly, the incredible feat of that Philippine band helped fuel interest back in the islands for organized bands.

Just 4 years after that U.S. triumph, the Philippines had its own national fair—the Manila Carnival—and in 1909, the band from Angeles outplayed its rivals to clinch first place in the musical band competition. It was during town fiestas, however, that local bands gave rein to their musical creativity.

In the Betis fiesta of 1959, a local band—Banda 46—was tasked to march around the town starting on the fiesta eve, from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.— to rouse people from their sleep—for a period of nine days! The day was capped with musical duel between bands---Serenata ning Musicus—in which Banda Sexmoan 12 played against Banda Sexmoan 31 at the church patio in a test of musical endurance and bravado.

 On 29 December, an exhibition was staged by a bevy of band majorettes, displaying their dancing and baton-twirling skills while band members in their gala uniforms played their best. On the fiesta day itself, 12 bands paraded along the streets, with some, invited from different provinces: Banda Baliwag, Banda Cabiao 96, Banda San Leonardo, Banda Bocaue, Banda Sexmoan 31, Banda Sexmoan 12, Banda Pulilan, Banda Candaba, Banda Duat Bacolor, Banda San Antonio Bacolor, Banda 48 Betis, Banda 26 Betis and the 600 Clark Field Air Force Band thru the courtesy of Mr. Salvador Pangilinan.

The bands then converged to escort the carrozas of the town patrons for the grand procession. The 1939 Lubao town fiesta from 4-5 May, was also made exciting with the presence of 3 “musicus”: Banda Lubao, Banda Sinfonica (Malabon) and Banda Buenaventura (Baliwag). The 3 bands were gathered at the municipio before they set out for the Poblacion, treating Lubeños to a musical extravaganza never before seen in the town.

 A 1946 fiesta souvenir program from Sta. Rita detailed also the arrival of 3 bands that played on the eve of the fiesta, the first one held after the Liberation: Banda Sta. Rita, Banda 31 from Sexmoan and Banda San Basilio. The next day, May 22, they gave it their all at the Serenata ding Banda de Musica. Even a small barrio could very well afford to pay a local “musicus” to lend gaiety to its fiesta.

In 1957, Valdes, a barrio of mostly agricultural families in Floridablanca, had two bands performing for their May 19 fiesta: the popular Banda 31 of Sexmoan which delighted residents in Gasac and Talang, and Banda Juan dela Cruz which came all the way from Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, to play at Looban and Mabical. On May 18, Saturday, a free concert was mounted featuring the two bands, highlighted by a military drill.

 I just can’t imagine a fiesta without a “musicus”. Bands just don’t set the stage and the mood for a celebration. But long after the food, the drinks, the rides, the sideshows and the baratilyos are gone, it is the voice of the band that will live on—inspiring, rousing, uplifting airs, that may as well be the theme music of our joyous lives!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

*361. MANUEL ABAD SANTOS: The Fighting Mayor of Angeles

GO FIGHT! The fighting-est mayor of Angeles, Manuel Abad Santos, known for his mettle,  unflinching conviction and his will to serve, this despite a physical handicap. 1965 photo.

 Dubbed as Angeles’s fightingest mayor from the day he was elected in 1951, Manuel Abad Santos is best remembered as a town leader who stood firmly on one leg and a crutch, sticking firmly to his principle of standing up for the common good of his people.

 That, however, is no wonder for this selfless and fearless town executive, descended from illustrious Kapampangan patriots and leaders. Born on 26 March 1907 to parents Irineo Abad Santos of San Fernando and Teofila Dizon of Angeles, Manuel counts the late martyr-jurist Jose Abad Santos and the great people’s leader, Pedro Abad Santos as uncles.

 He grew up in comfortable surroundings—his family were operators of the first moviehouse in Pampanga. His primary education began at the local Angeles Elementary School, then enrolled at Pampanga High School in San Fernando for his first three years of high school. Manuel then transferred to Ateneo de Manila for his senior year. But an unfortunate incident in 1926 would leave him physically maimed for the rest of his life. While in a San Fernando entertainment place, he was caught in a gunfire started by a PC trooper who suddenly went on a shooting rampage. He lost his left leg in that carnage.

 Once recovered from his wounds, however, he went back to Ateneo and earned a pre-law degree, an Associate in Arts which he finished in 1927. Manuel, however, opted to work right after college, joining his parents in expanding their burgeoning moviehouse business by adding on two more: Cine Eden and Marte, which became well-known centers of showbiz entertainment in 50s Angeles.

 He married Leonarda Atienza of Capas, Tarlac, and their union was blessed with a large brood of 8 children: Manuel Jr., Hollanda, Immaculada, Irineo, Manolita, Antonio, Pedro and Filipinas. In later years, two of their children (Hollanda and Irineo) would be connected with the management and operation of the Angeles Telephone Co.; two boys took up medical studies (Manuel Jr. and Pedro), while another son, Antonio finished Law.

 He was already in his mid 40s when, in 1951, he joined the political fray. Running as a minority candidate, he won the mayorship of Angeles by a landslide, signalling the beginning of a long and fruitful career.

 In 1955, he replicated his monumental victory at the polls, winning a second mayoral term. This time, however,, his term was marked with bitter and contentious moments with Clark Field and local socio-civic groups.

 In 1956, the Clark commander, Col. Karl Barthelmess declared Angeles ”off limits” to military personnel, owing to intimidations allegedly made on servicemen by the local police. Accusations flew back and forth, but even with the ban hurting the local economy, the mayor could not be cowed. “Sovereignty”, he said, “could not be had for a couple of greenbacks”.

 In another separate incident, the local Jaycees took offense to a billboard put up by the Mayor which proclaimed his accomplishments. This cause a rift between the mayor and Jaycee members who also happened to be important businessmen—movers and shakers of the town’s economy.

Indeed, this mayor proved once again his pluck and mettle as “the only one-legged mayor of the Philippines and the one with the most kick inspite of his handicap”. He would continue running the affairs of the town with nationalist zeal, and for him, no other accomplishment can be greater than protecting the rights of the people to the best of his ability.

“The greatest good for the greatest number”, was the principle he lived by, maintaining that the welfare of his people is above the law. Manuel Abad Santos was succeeded by his nephew Rafael del Rosario after he finished his term in 1959.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


ARO, KATIMYAS NA NITANG LALAKE! A man from Sta. Ana, curiously dressed in women's clothes and with a head covering to match, strikes a pose between two ladies. Ca. 1930s.

A few years back, I was leafing over my Apung Tiri’s old expense ledgers dating back from the 1940s. Apung Tiri was my grandmother from my father’s side whom I have never met (she died in 1952, before I was born), and she was known for being fastidious about household expenses, writing down every money spent, every debt paid, and every cash advanced.

 Several entries in her journal piqued my interest especially those parts that mentioned her payments to “Juan Bacla”, apparently a tailor who made pants and shirts for Apung Tiri’s boys, sons Manuel, Mateo and Gerardo, my late father. Descriptive labels appended to people’s names were commonplace in the old days, and I remember people in the neighbourhood called Inggong Taba, Tsoglung Intsik and Rey Duling.

I was not prepared to see a “Juan Bacla” in my Apu’s old ledger, for I thought people then were not as open with their sexual orientations, making me wonder if “Juan Bacla” was already as swishy and as flamboyant back in the ‘30s as today’s Vice Ganda.

 As early as the 19th century, however, gayness was known and observed in the Philippines; a Spanish photographer, Felix Laureano, even shot a photo of a gay lavandera in the company of 3 washerwomen, He writes of the photo: mentioned “Three dalagas and a tao, sitting on the green grass beside the river and washing clothes, their minute feet being lapped by the crystal clear current. The tao, who can be identified by his manners, is binabayi, agui, and has the balutan of dirty clothes near him.”

 “Binabayi” was a general term to describe effeminate people—and at one point, even our national hero, Jose Rizal was labelled as one. “Bakla”is another appellation, but its deeper meaning is “to weaken”, hence a line in a Pasyon describes “si Kristo ay nababakla..”.

 In Minalin, there is a quaint festival involving cross-dressing—the Aguman Sanduk (Fellowship of the Ladle) . Started in 1934 by a group of drunken Minalin revelers who thought of a way to brighten up the New Year. The macho men dared each other to dress up in women’s clothes and parade on the main street. The culminating activity was the election of the Aguman muse—the ugliest of the cross-dressers. The honor of becoming the first queen went to husky Hilarion Serrano, who oldtimers remembered as “pekamatsura, maragul atyan, and delanan ane lupa” (the ugliest, pot-bellied, termite-ridden face).

 The celebration was capped with cultural activities “crissotan”competitions, and partaking of “lelut manuk”(chicken porridge). It is remarkable that the participants are all hot-blooded, heterosexual males. In the ensuing years, the Aguman Sanduk has grown even wilder and more daring: men and boys go on a beautifying frenzy: unabashedly donning blonde wigs, putting on fake lashes and mascaras and wearing brassieres in preparation for the New Year’s Day parade.

 On that much awaited day, the men in their micro-minis, sequinned evening gowns and outlandish costumes turn on their coquettish charms as they take to the streets—walking, dancing, sashaying in a spectacle in transvestism that would put any Miss Universe contestant to shame. On the sidestreets, the women cheer their men, husbands, sons and fathers as the freaky procession of pulchritude wends its way around town.

 Kapampangans have embraced this unique festival to this day, an original cultural tradition that pays tribute by poking fun at the ideals of machismo and beauty melded together in one celebration—two qualities that are valued by Kapampangans like no other. But Aguman Sanduk may also be looked at as a festival of liberation from gender discrimination and repression, expressed in gay abandon for all the world to see and eventually, accept, the way Kapampangans have.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

*359. 1965 Miss Press Photography: ELVIRA PAMINTUAN GONZALES

THIS GONZALES GIRL. Budding beauty Elvira Pamintuan Gonzales, in her early years in showbiz. She held many beauty titles but nothing as precious as being the mother of 1993 Miss Universe finalist Charlene Gonzales.

Elvira Gonzales, the beauty queen-turned actress who would one day become the mother of another world-class beauty, Charlene Gonzales, was born on 27 September 1947 to parents Perfecto Gonzales and Aurora Pamintuan.

The Pamintuans were a large Kapampangan clan with Angeles origins, to which Elvira belonged. The Pamintuans, under the patriarch Don Florentino Torres Pamintuan, were an influential family in Pampanga, and their historic mansion still stands today, the site of the inauguration of the first Philippine Republic.

 The Manila family of Elvira, however, was more modest; she and her parents resided in busy Sta. Cruz, along G. Camarines street. Elvie’s beauty was apparent at a young age, and she wasn’t even 16 when she joined a beauty tilt sponsored by the biggest dance program on television in 1963—Dance-O-Rama. She clinched the title and was soon on her way to collecting more beauty crowns.

 She signed up for the 1st ever Bb. Pilipinas Beauty Pageant in 1964 and when all the votes had been counted, she found herself in third place, behind Kapampangan winner Myrna Panlilio of San Fernando. After the contest, she went back to school at the University of Santo Tomas.

 Elvie was again, prevailed upon by her friends and talent agents to enter the 1965 Miss Press Photography of the Philippines, a nationwide competition launched by the leading association of photographers in the country. Previous winners and candidates had used this pageant as a stepping stone to greater fame in showbiz, like Mila Ocampo (Snooky Serna’s mother), Cynthia Ugalde (she would later win Miss Philippines and compete in the 1962 Miss International) and Helen Gamboa (another Kapampangan who would rise to stardom as a song-and-dance star of the ‘60s). This time, Elvie surprised everyone—including herself—by romping off with the crown.

 Feeling more prepared, she decided to join again the premiere beauty search for the Philippine representative to the Miss Universe, that same year. By then, Elvie was 18 and a 3rd Year Foreign Service student at the University of Manila. Competition, however, more was formidable at the 1965 Bb. Pilipinas, with Ilongga beauties prevailing, led by eventual winner Louis Vail Aurelio. Still, Elvie placed a respectable 5th.

 It was only a matter of time that the movies beckoned, and in 1967, she was signed up to do a lightweight movie that was right down her alley, "Together Again", with Rico Roman, supporting Nida Blanca and Romano Castelvi. This was quickly followed by “Let’s Go Merry Go Round” and "Crackdown". The next year, she had two movies released, “Hari ng Slums”and “Siete Dolores”. It was in showbiz that Elvie met the current toast of action movies, Bernard Bonnin (b. 8 Sept. 1939/ d. 21 Nov. 2009). The handsome Negrense had originated the role of “Palos” in 1961, for which he became well-known for. He would do a string of “Palos”movies and even a counterpart “Palos” TV series as late as 2008.

 Elvie and Bernard were soon married and two children were born of this union: Richard Bonnin and Charlene Mae. Their marriage ended when the children were still young, and Elvie married again, this time, to Jose Vera-Perez in civil rites, in 1972. She then retire from showbiz permanently, didviding her time between the Philippines and the U.S.

 In 1993, daughter Charlene came home to join the Bb. Pilipinas Beauty Pageant, the same contest Elvie competed in, 28 years before. Charlene was the same age as Elvie when she copped the plum title of Bb. Pilipinas-Universe. At the Miss Universe tilt held in Manila that same year, Charlene paid homage to her mother Elvie and her legacy of beauty that she too had pursued with more success. She placed among the Top 6 finalists, in the contest won by India’s Sushmita Sen. Today, the Gonzaleses are settled contentedly in retirement in the U.S. Charlene, Elvie’s daughter, Charlene, is married to to movie hearth throb Aga Muhlach, and is a is a proud mother of two.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


WE THREE KINGS OF ORIENT ARE. Young boys play the roles of the gift-bearing Three Kings (or more accurately, the 3 Magi or the Wise Men) in a Christmas school play. Ca. 1920s.

As Filipinos, we pride ourselves in having the longest Christmas season in the world—a period that begins with the 1st day of Simbang Gabi on December 15, and ending officially the liturgical holidays on the Feast of the Three Kings, January 6. It is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany, marking the appearance of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the three royals—who wereactually not Kings, but Magis or Wise Men.

 As a school kid in the 60s, I always looked forward to my over-extended vacation for it meant not just weeks of do-nothing days, but it also gave me more chances to receive gifts!! As every ninong and ninang knows, the Aldo ning Atlung Ari gives them the last opportunity to dispense gifts and Aguinaldo to their ina-anaks. The long holiday gives them no excuse to be remiss in their gift-giving duties, lest they are branded as “kuriput” or “makunat”.

 Indeed, it was not just Santa Claus who was looked at as the official purveyor of gifts; the Three Kings too, were regarded in Spain as bearers of generous treats and gifts. After all, the three made the long travel to Bethlehem to present the newborn Jesus with gold, myrrh and frankincense, thus, starting a tradition of gift-giving.

 This tradition is still alive and well in Madrid, where the arrival of Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar from the East was eagerly awaited by children. Melchor was depicted as a hoary man with a long grey beard while Gaspar was known as the ‘white one’ with his closely-cropped blonde beard. Balthazar, the lord of treasure, was known for his swarthy complexion.

 On the eve of their feast day, the 3 Kings take to the streets of Madrid, accompanied by a cavalcade of soldiers in a parade full of Oriental fantasy, pomp and splendor. The evening procession begins at Retiro and circles the residential areas where kids have placed their shoes on the window sill, in hopes of having them filled with presents the next day. This tradition has caught on in some provinces in the country, particularly in Nueva Ecija where the Three Kings are the acknowledged patrons of Gapan. Children also leave their shoes out so that they will be filled with money or candy. In America, the shoe has been replaced with stockings. 

Club Español, an organization of civic-minded Spanish-descent members and Hispanophiles, has also helped perpetuate this custom in the Philippines by holding its own “Dia De Los Reyes”, capped with a festive parade of the 3 Kings distributing presents to indigent children.

 The Feast of the 3 Kings has been moved to the first Sunday of January, which caused the instant shortening of the Philippine Christmas break. The present generation barely knows the significance of ”Aldo Atlung Ari”, and elsewhere in the country, it has become a hybrid celebration, known also as “Pasko ng Matatanda”, a day to pay respect to senior citizens.

In Pampanga, the Kuraldal—the famous dancing fiesta of Sasmuan in honor of its patroness, Sta. Lucia-- coincides with the Sunday feast of the 3 Kings, hence the event has been termed as “Kuraldal Atlung Ari”. Also on this day, childless couples in Sasmuan went to church to ask for the gift of fertility so they could have offsprings. For oldtimers though, the spirit of this feast lives on as they still wish one another with the now-incongruous greeting-- “Happy 3 Kings!”—consistent with the observation that holidays are "more fun in the Philippines!".